Constructing a Black Amazon: The Politics of Territorial Rights and Knowledge Production in Brazil’s North

Authors: Kerri Brown*, Southern Methodist University
Topics: Political Geography, Ethnicity and Race, Latin America
Keywords: Brazil, political geography, territory
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Napoleon D3, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Whereas much attention has been given to Afro-Brazilian activism in Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo, activists and scholars from northern Brazil often point to the “invisibility” of black populations in the Amazon (Salles 1971; Sampaio 2011; Barros 2015). Notably, the region is home to nearly half of all quilombola communities in Brazil, whose identities and struggles for land rights are rooted in issues specific to the region, such as environmental rights, bioprospecting, and isolation from the economic and political centers of country (Marin 2006; Oshai 2017; Almeida 2004). Based on ethnographic fieldwork in the state of Pará, I conceptualize medicinal plants as political objects through which these issues can be explored. Although medicinal plants comprise one of many charged environmental topics of the region, they are at the center of myriad national and international political conversations pertaining to trade, pharmaceutical development, benefit-sharing, and healthcare. For this reason, rural Amazonian quilombola communities are constantly engaged in dialogue around their use of medicinal plants with various actors: scientific researchers, cosmetics companies, local cooperatives, and biomedical healthcare practitioners. Within these conversations arise questions of legitimacy, economic exploitation, and access to healthcare, among others. I argue, therefore, that medicinal plants provide a lens through which to analyze how quilombola communities negotiate broader citizenship claims, pushing the conversation around land rights beyond a focus on territory in and of itself, but on how quilombola territory is strategically used and how knowledge of territory is approached by the state.

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